Alwaysondafly-Year in Review

AlwaysOnDaFly “Year in Review-2018”

Wow…where to begin. It’s difficult to completely absorb where we have been and what we have done in the past year, a little bit overwhelming, a little bit sad and a whole lot of gratitude for being able to live this retirement life like we are, so hop onboard and enjoy the ride with AlwaysOnDaFly… To put things into perspective for those that have recently started following us, we left Virginia in September 2017 and have been full time RV’ers since. After months of journaling and taking photos of our adventures across America we began “blogging” this past summer while in California. We hope you will visit our Alwaysondafly Blog Page to see where we have been. This “Year in Review” will provide some details of our travels from New Orleans to the California Coast and our meandering method of travel that got us there.

 

City of the Dead New Orleans

The 2018 journey began in New Orleans. This was our 2nd stop there as we also visited it in November 2017. The French Quarter, Café du Monde, the river plantations, the “Cities of the Dead”, the WWII Museum, and the food are EVERYTHING they are cracked up to be. St. Bernard State Park was less than 16 miles from downtown and we thoroughly enjoyed mingling with the locals at Casanova Seafood, Rocky & Carlos restaurant and Gerald’s Donuts.  We are anticipating a return visit to enjoy some more of the Street jazz in the French Quarter.

 

 

Texas,here we come. Our first “OMG” was when we crossed the state line from Louisiana and saw signs for El Paso – 855 miles!!! It quickly put things into perspective as to how big the state was and how fast the next two months would go by. We went to Livingston to finish our Texas residency paperwork, then off to the Gulf coast where we stayed at Galveston Island at the State Park, enjoying long morning walks with the dogs on the beach.

 

 

We discovered Henry’s (which was actually a Salvadoran restaurant), we enjoyed authentic tamales, papusas and tacos. A short drive Padre Island National Seashore was our next coastal destination near Corpus Christi. We had a blast driving the Jeep on the beach and were surprised to see some parking their RVs there. We went to the USS Lexington CV 16 Museum. Deborah and I enjoy our military history and having a chance to talk to the old veterans that volunteer. Our last coastal visit was to Adolph Tomae County Park on the Arroyo Colorado near Brownsville. We visited South Padre Island, (way too crowded) Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Area, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, got our first glimpse of the border wall in Brownsville and were baptized with street tacos. A recurring event that we have become somewhat addicted to…. lol.

 

 

With January rapidly ending we were off to San Antonio and New Braunfels. Our stay at Crane Mill Park on Canyon Lake was fantastic. The daily dog walks were refreshing. We really enjoyed New Braunfels area, the Farmer’s Market, Naegelin’s Bakery, Landa Park, Gruene, Bussey’s Flea Market were amazing, and being able to take pictures of the church your sister got married in the mid-60s was pretty cool, too. We also spent some time in San Antonio to enjoy the food, Sam’s Burger Joint, Lucky Noodle and several unmarked Taco trucks, the San Antonio Missions along RiverWalk were excellent Photo Ops.

The San Antonio Museum of Art was awesome, and we met up with one of Deborah’s Instagram friends, Ron and did a photo walk in the Pearl Brewery district to share street people photography techniques and had lunch. Good times! Also, I did a visit to NTTC Lackland to reconnect with some Navy colleagues that I worked with while at the Center for Security Forces.  

Austin, Texas. State Capital, home of the Longhorns, Congress Street, Torchy Tacos and Voodoo Donuts! We stayed at McKinney Falls State Park, somewhat hampered by gloomy weather, we enjoyed another excellent place for daily dog walks and evening campfires. A visit to the State Capital visitor center, some thrift & antique store shopping, a day strolling up and down South Congress Street to discover the best brisket burnt ends at “Twelve Bone BBQ”, we were reluctant to leave but time to move on… Austin is still on our “bucket list” just to see if the sun ever shines….

Waco, Texas. Home of Chip and JoAnn’s Gaines Magnolia empire, Schmaltz’s Sandwich Shop and the famous “Branding the Brazos” sculpture. We stayed at Mother Neff State Park which was near Gatesville, this enabled us to visit family and catch up on Tracy folklore. If you haven’t noticed, we enjoyed our stays at Texas state parks! Location, Quality, Value, never a bad experience!!

 

 

Nearby Denton, Texas is Ray Roberts State Park. We nearly had the place to ourselves… The lingering weather patterns from San Antonio, Austin and Waco were still present, cold and freezing rain reduced our evening campfires but still managed to get some dog walks in on their trails. Highlight of the visit was the opportunity to meet Deborah’s Instagram film friend, Jason Lee. We shared stories of our travels and Deborah & Jason talked about shooting film on the road. We also met Armand, the owner of Denton Camera Exchange and had a nice visit with them over lunch. Deborah also had the chance to connect with another Instagram film friend, Brandy, at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth.

 

 

The last leg of our Texas journey was Big Bend National Park. We stayed nearby at Upper Madera Canyon in the Big Bend Ranch State Park along the Rio Grande. 50MPH winds made for an interesting evening when you are perched broadside atop a canyon mesa. The morning sunrises and views of the canyon far outweighed one blustery night. So much to see in this area, the National Park is huge! We only visited Santa Elena Canyon. A short hike provided breathtaking views of the 1500-foot canyon walls. Quite a site to see. We took Maverick Road, a 13-mile gravel short cut back to the park’s entrance. Somewhat bumpy in places but the vast openness of the trip and the vista views along the way were well worth the adventure.

Probably NOT the best place to be in rainy weather as flash flooding could easily ruin your day. The abandoned Contrabando Movie set along Hwy 170 provided the perfect spot for Deborah to do some 8×10 pinhole film shots. “The Streets of Laredo” and episodes of “Lonesome Dove” were filmed there. Highly recommend going to Terlingua Ghost town. The remnants of an old mining town are still standing and some buildings that survived are open for business. The cemetery has some unique headstones and stories to match. Our 300-mile trek to El Paso was broken up with pitstops at an Alpine food truck (for breakfast burritos), Marfa and Van Horn. The overnight stay at the El Paso KOA was our adios to our two month visit to the “Lone Star State”.

 

 

Welcome to March and the Land of Enchantment! It didn’t take us long to discover why it’s called that. Our initial stay at Caballo Lake State Park near Truth or Consequences (T or C) was a pleasant surprise. In Truth of Consequences is the quaint diner – “Carmens Diner”. The breakfast burritos accompanied many of our daily road trip adventures. Their Huevos Rancheros aren’t too shabby, either! We were not prepared to see the beauty and splendor of what the Southwest has to offer. The desert environment has a unique vibe, the ghost towns, the Jornada Del Muerto, hard to imagine how anyone lived in such harsh conditions.

Off to the west of our campground about 50 miles is Chloride, NM. Once a booming silver mining town, the restoration of some of the buildings and its contents is truly remarkable. The number of historical artifacts preserved for public display is museum quality. Now called the Pioneer Store Museum, it is owned and operated by the Edmunds family, Don, Dona and Linda. Truly a rewarding experience to share some time with them.

 

 

South of T or C is Hatch, NM, the Chili Pepper capital of the world. The local village market has the spiciest chorizo on planet earth and the Hatch salsa is rated on a much different scale than Pace or Old El Paso.

 

 

 

 

We spent nearly a couple of weeks in and around Albuquerque, Jemez Springs and Santa Fe. The Old towns, market squares, the multiple pueblo ruins, a snowy mountain drive to Palomas peak, a visit to Gilman Tunnel and the Valles Caldera National Preserve were some of the highlights of this area. We visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Art Museum which provided an eye-opening experience for us to a later visit to the Abiquiu area which I covered in my October blog on the “Land of Enchantment”.

 

 

We left Santa Fe on North Hwy 84 bound for Heron Lake State Park. Our plan was to go fly fishing on the Rio Chama. The next day we woke up to a light snow which didn’t stop till midafternoon. 10 inches later and when we could no longer see the AC units on top the Seneca, we knew we had some snow to get rid of. We succeeded and safely got out of the park the next morning. Our next destination, Navajo Lake State Park was much warmer, and we had an easier time fly fishing. The Cottonwood campground on the San Juan river was beautiful. The northwestern region of New Mexico has many off roading opportunities to get up close and personal with the Hoo Doos and other unique and colorful rock formations.

 

The last geographic icon we saw in New Mexico, amidst a barren desert plain was Shiprock. On sacred Navajo land, it can still be visited but no longer climbed. We drove until we ran out of road to get as close as we could, we had cloudless clear blue skies and the sun at our backs for our photo Op.

April 1st, Easter Sunday, Welcome to Utah. After a drive to the infamous “Four Corners” where we paid for a gravel parking lot full of pot-holes so big you could easily hide a body, we got to simultaneously stand in four states; Utah, Colorado, Arizona & New Mexico. It’s one of those things that was on your bucket list, then regret you went. LOL. Utah has Five National Parks, Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods. It was here, we both agreed that we should have taken a geology course before we arrived in Utah. We excessively used adjectives like “Wow”, “OMG”, Un-F*ing real”, “Holey Shiz” for the entire month.

 

Monument Valley

Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park was our first WOW. The majestic 17-mile loop drive takes you past many of the park’s iconic Buttes; the Mittens, Big Indian, Elephant, Camel to name a few. There were also so many breathtaking stops along the way; John Ford’s Point, Artist Point and the North Window were memorable. We noticed that many landscapes of the area were perfect backdrops for so many of the 50s/60s Black & White westerns. Kinda cool to know that John Wayne, Ward Bond, Randolph Scott and Kirk Douglas were out there eating dust to make a movie.

 

Valley of the Gods

Nearby is the Valley of the Gods with another 17-mile drive similar to Monument Valley, however this one is far less commercialized, significantly more remote and much of the area is open to BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping, we boondock camped here for 4 days and probably one of the coolest places we have stayed (so far). Some other interesting area highlights were Gooseneck State Park and Mexican Hat. The Moki Dugway is still on our bucket list for another time.

 

 

The Moab area is famous for its nearby National & State parks. Each has its own brand of unique beauty and magnificence. Distant views of the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers are the trademark of Canyonlands NP. Dead Horse Point SP has dramatic views of the canyons below carved out by the Colorado River as far as the eye can see

 

 

 

Arches NP is huge, a day trip is NOT enough time to see the park if you have any plans to do any of the short hikes. So many trails to see arches and red rock formations carved out by time. Even in April, trail head parking lots filled up fast.

 

 

 

Outside Moab, we boondocked (dry camped) at another BLM campground on the banks of the Colorado River. Sheer cliff walls lined the river for spectacular sunrises. Deb and I discovered that morning campfires, sunrises and coffee were fast becoming a staple to our primitive camping routine. Nearby, the HWY 128 scenic drive follows along the river canyon up to Dewey where you can get a view of the Fisher Towers. Another day we ventured up La Sal Loop Road which was another OMG drive, seeing Castleton Tower and Parriott Mesa then up and over La Sal Mountain. There are some thrilling off roading opportunities in the Moab vicinity. We drove up Long Canyon to “Pucker Pass” (no explanation needed) and spent a late afternoon driving past the potash mines on out near Schaeffer road.

 

A short 155-mile trip delivered us to our 3rd National Park in Utah, Capital Reef National Park. After looking down at rock formations, here you get to drive through them. Major highlight of the area was a off-road adventure to Cathedral Canyon. Nearly 60 miles of gravel, rock and sand roads, beginning with fording the Fremont River, past the Water Well Oasis, then scaling down the switchbacks into Cathedral Valley to see the Temples of the Sun & Moon before we got back to HWY 24 near Abzweig Butte near Cainsville. We hiked the Grand Wash Trail, up through the Narrows and into Bear Canyon to the Cassidy Arch Trailhead…As I have mentioned before, these dry washes must be holy hell when the flash floods occur. NOT a place to be in the rainy season.

 

 

The final adventure here was a drive down HWY 12 to Boulder to take the Burr Trail Road into the Grand Escalante Staircase, another spectacular Long Canyon road to travel and one more set of narrow, steep switchbacks to traverse into Burr Canyon and up the dusty trail back to Torrey, Utah. Be sure to visit the Gifford Homestead near the visitor center at Capital Reef NP. Their homemade pies made from the fruit trees in the park were delicious.

Seldom has weather impacted our travels, however the morning we were heading south on HWY12 to Bryce Canyon, some snow and ice in the mountains altered our route. Although we went a little farther than intended, the roads were dry, and we discovered a few spots along the way that we later revisited.

 

We spent ten days to see Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome State Park, Red Canyon, Casto Canyon, Powell Point and Pine Lake National Forest. We wore out the “WOWs & OMGs”.

 

 

 

 

We experienced awesome hikes on Peek-a-Boo trail, Grand Parade Trail, Pine Lake Trail, and Casto Canyon Trail. The red rock and Hoo-Doo formations were unbelievable. There were scenic drives in all directions out of the Bryce area, the vistas, overlooks and canyon views were mind-numbing. We did some off-roading on Old Escalante Rd. (FR17) and between Escalante and Widtsoe, Utah which was almost 10,000 feet at the mountain pass. We picked a perfect day to go as we got to follow a road grader along the way.

 

 

A day trip to visit the abandoned Osiris Creamery, and a reconnaissance trip down Hwy. 89 & Rte. 9 to check on some BLM camping opportunities in the Zion area, capped off an exciting stay. By the way, that scenic route into Zion National Park has to be one of the most breathtaking 15 miles we have ever driven!

 

 

Zion was our 5th and final National Park in Utah and it wrapped up the month of April. People always ask, “What is your favorite National Park”? National Parks are like kids, you aren’t supposed to have a favorite, but Yosemite is still #1. Arches, Bryce, Grand Tetons & Zion, each have their own unique spell that they cast, but Yosemite just swallows your soul.

Sorry…. back to Zion. Previously I mentioned the scenic Rte. 9 that weavey-winds you into the park from Mt. Carmel Junction, the drive from the west is less ceremonious. Access to the park during peak season is only by shuttle bus taken from the visitor center. IF YOU ARE NOT AN EARLY BIRD, the visitor center parking lot fills up fast which means you pay and park in Springdale and take a bus to the park visitor center. Upon taking the shuttle into Zion Canyon, your “stop” is predicated by how long of hike you intend to take, then hop back on when you are finished to get back to the visitor center.

 

We opted for the Kayenta Trail which took you along the Virgin River and into Heaps Canyon where the trail gently climbed up to the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools. Amazing views, Canyon walls and rock faces the size of football fields were seen throughout the hike.

 

 

 

 

Our second significant hike was on Taylor Creek Trail in Kolob Canyon. A beautiful trail that crossed the Taylor Creek umpteen times, lots of greenery, red rock canyons and a couple of old cabins (pre-National park) still standing. Some off-roading adventure is always on the agenda. A short ride up FR32 took us up along the trickling Leeds Creek to Oak Creek Campground only to discover someone had booked it for the weekend for a wedding. Two track road, pot holes, canyons and mountain peaks all around us made up for a locked gate.

Our visit to Kolob Reservoir via Kolob Terrace Road was with a mixed bag of weather. Blue skies, marshmallow clouds, rain, freezing rain and a bit of snow made for a chilly but beautiful drive. Our last adventure was a drive down to the Virgin River Gorge and campground. We thought about camping here (BLM) but opted out, took the dogs for a nice walk and Zeus got his feet wet in the Virgin River. There it was…. the end of April and the Big Five of Utah were all in our rear-view mirror.

 

 

The month of May was upon us and we were on our way to Las Vegas (LV), Nevada. The drive from St George to Las Vegas was all downhill through the Virgin River gorge. In places the highway was virtually over the river because the canyon was so narrow. We quickly figured out we were no longer in the mountains, temperatures in the upper 90s and low 100, but it’s a “dry heat” … LOL. Shortly after our arrival, our daughter Jessica flew in for Mother’s Day. She recently finished grad school in Boston and we thought it would be cool to have her come out for a visit. She was also present when Deborah and I renewed our wedding vows at the White Wedding Chapel.

 

 

We copycatted “Oceans 11” and gambled at the Bellagio, watched the dancing fountain, saw Frank Marino in Diva’s Las Vegas and strolled down Fremont Avenue to see some on the street entertainment.

 

 

 

 

Vegas isn’t all about the Strip and gambling. Lake Mead Recreation Area, Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon are easy trips out of town. A hike up Robbers Roost was a cool morning in Humboldt Toyabe National Forest. We watched the temperatures tumble as the elevation got higher coming off the desert floor. We went to the National Atomic Testing Museum which documented the history of nuclear testing at the nearby Nevada Test site in the desert north of LV. A visit to the Mount Charleston area included a stop at the Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial. A heart wrenching story about a plane crash that killed 14 people on a plane enroute to “Area 51”. The government kept a lid on it for over 40 years under the auspices of harming National Security.

 

 

Did you know that the only time in the history Lake Meade has had less water in it was when it was being filled in 1937? Pretty alarming to see how many marinas have dried up along the shores. If this drought continues, tragedy is right around the corner for the American Southwest. Hoover Dam’s intake towers have over 125 feet visible today, a sharp contrast to its last full capacity in 1983. Hoover Dam is truly an engineering marvel and the new bridge that spans the gorge below is also a sight to see.

Off to Arizona and the next couple of weeks went by fast. Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Prescott, Sycamore Canyon, Coconino & Kaibab National Forest, Phoenix, Tucson, Saguaro NP and Tumacacori National Historic Park.

 

 

We spent a day at the Grand Canyon NP and as millions before us, stood in utter amazement of the size and beauty at the scenic view of the canyon below. We didn’t spend much time around the visitor center as crowds were quite large and we wanted to see more of the Canyon. We took Desert View Drive east to see the Sinking Ship, Coronado Butte, Grandview & Moran Point, a stop at the Tusayan Ruin, then Lipan & Navajo Point and a beautiful drive out to stop and see the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park before we headed south on HWY 89 back down to Flagstaff area. Our off roading adventure here took us into the Kaibab National Forest where we rambled on Forest roads into the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area where we found White Horse Recreation site and more back roads to the JD Dam Lake and Sycamore Point which was the northerly edge of the Sedona area.

 

 

We took a day trip down Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona and did a drive by the Chapel of the Cross, which was a beautiful drive but quite congested for a Saturday. We picnicked in Cottonwood at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park which was on the Verde River. A short stop at the Tuzigoot National Monument, a pueblo ruin that once was inhabited by the Sinagua, then it was off to Jerome, Arizona, a silver mine ghost town that Mom and Dad used to take us to in my childhood days and siblings often shared the horror stories of how Dad would careen up and down the mountain roads to get there. We attempted, without success, to find out where Mom & Dad lived in Prescott Valley and found our way back to Williams.

 

Saguaro NP

Our time in Phoenix and Tucson was ill conceived. Coming out of the mountains and into the desert was a brutal shock. Temperatures were in the low 100s for over a week. We visited Tucson, enjoyed Saguaro NP and a drive down to the border town of Nogales, but we both agreed it was the wrong time of the year to be there. We had a similar experience in Phoenix.

“California Here We Come”, we were westward bound for Palm Springs. The month of May was rapidly ending, we took the scenic route through Joshua Tree National Park only to find that only about 1/3 of the park had the namesake tree. A beautiful drive through the remainder of the park was mostly Ocotillo, Cholla and Yucca. We drove through town to see (from a distance) where Bob Hope once lived and drove right by Frank Sinatra’s house.

 

 

We spent our last day here taking a trip around the Salton Sea. The Bombay Beach ruins and Drive in were eclectic to say the least. Further down the road it got even more weird. Salvation Mountain was a spiritual creation of Leonard Knight. Latex paint covers adobe structures in his adoration for God. Quirky but pretty cool. Nearby, a WWII abandoned Marine Corps base with nothing left but concrete slabs where buildings and homes once stood is now “Slab City”, an RV snowbird and squatter paradise that resembled a scene right out of Mad Max & Thunderdome. All that is left of May was to be outbound for San Diego!

 

 

June – “America’s Finest City” San Diego, Home to Balboa Park, Petco Park, Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma Lighthouse, Sunset Cliffs, Gaslamp Quarter, Mount Soledad, & La Jolla Cove. Being able to reconnect with family, old shipmates and take Deb to my favorite restaurants like Point Loma Seafood, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto and Mary’s Donuts, was very enjoyable. They haven’t changed one bit and still serve excellent food. We checked out a Padres game, went to the Museum of Photographic Arts and the SD Museum of Art, took the dogs to Fiesta Island Park, experienced the Santee Swap meet, and finished off our stay at Fiddler’s Cove RV park at Coronado.

June – “America’s Finest City” San Diego, Home to Balboa Park, Petco Park, Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma Lighthouse, Sunset Cliffs, Gaslamp Quarter, Mount Soledad, & La Jolla Cove. Being able to reconnect with family, old shipmates and take Deb to my favorite restaurants like Point Loma Seafood, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto and Mary’s Donuts, was very enjoyable. They haven’t changed one bit and still serve excellent food. We checked out a Padres game, went to the Museum of Photographic Arts and the SD Museum of Art, took the dogs to Fiesta Island Park, experienced the Santee Swap meet, and finished off our stay at Fiddler’s Cove RV park at Coronado.

 

 

Up the “Five and Four-Oh Five” to Seal Beach Weapons Station RV park so we could experience some of chaos that Los Angeles had to offer. Our short stay included a trip to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, China Town, Randy’s donuts, a drive through Santa Monica and Beverly Hills to see some of the homes of the “Rich & Famous”. Continuing up the 101 to Ventura County, we stayed at Point Mugu RV Park right on the bea

 

 

 

We visited the Santa Barbara Mission, Malibu Beach and did a scenic adventure up Encinal Canyon Rd to the Charmlee Wilderness Park. Our next stop was one of the cornerstones of our RV adventure, Yosemite National Park. Looking back at the number of places we have been and that the adventures we have been so fortunate to experience.

 

 

Yosemite NP has captured our soul. The other National Parks have beauty, majesty, scenic drives and abundant displays of mother nature but Tunnel View, El Capitan, Half-Dome, the valley and Glacier Point are beyond words.

 

 

In summary, the year started in Texas and we began “blogging” while in Yosemite in June and our subsequent travels and adventures are captured in our Alwaysondafly Blog Page that we encourage you to visit. Our winter roost in Tucson is nearly over and soon we will be on the road exploring, adventuring and sharing our experiences with everyone that follows along.

From AlwaysOnDaFly,

“Bye for Now”

Chuck & Deborah

6 thoughts on “Alwaysondafly-Year in Review

  1. Awesome! Loved reading about all these fabulous places. Looking forward to traveling in your footsteps as we head West on our journey… See you in New Orleans! Can’t wait to see and talk to you all then!!!

    1. Thanks Peg,

      Looking forward to getting back on the road…Always appreciate your comments and following us on our adventures…

      Chuck & Deborah

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